Writing Songs

My primary goals for our 2020 sabbatical/retirement year (Marcia and I sometimes see it as one type of year, and sometimes as the other, depending on how we feel about taking on new salaried/in-house jobs at some point, sooner or later) are to settle on where we want to live for the long haul, and to get back into the writing routines I maintained in the ’90s and early ’00s, when I regularly created creative work, and sold it when and where I could.

There wasn’t much money there, truth be told, but credits tend to conceive credits, and bylines tend to beget bylines, and having markets and audiences for work makes work feel a bit less work-like, if you know what I mean.  Having put my creative chops (mostly) on the back burner for a lot of years, while focusing instead on the wide range of salaried professional writing for which most readers here probably know me, I’m now ready (and have the time) to do the work I need to do to bring those creative urges and outcomes back to the fore in the years ahead, for fun, for sure, and maybe for profit, fingers crossed.

I know from experience that part of that creative process flows from putting myself into creative situations with creative people, where sparks fly, networks form, inspiration oozes and feedback loops make weak work better, and good work great. I’m keeping eyes open for other opportunities, but at the moment, I’m currently registered to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat in April-May,  and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in June. I look forward to both events, and go into them with open mind and open heart, ready to be motivated and moved.

In advance of those programs, I’m going back through a lot of work from the past decade or so (mostly short stories, some poetry, some essays, some plays-in-one-act) that I created, but that I never marketed. Some of it objectively deserves to stay hidden, but with the distance of years, some of it reads pretty darn good to me now, and I’m excited to roll it out. I am also formulating some plans for new material, perhaps even another novel, now that Eponymous is pushing 20 years old. Never say never again, I guess.

All of that comes by way of introduction to what this post is really about, if the title seems confusing. Bear with me. You know I like to ramble, but I always get where I’m going.

So! A few weeks ago, when I was thinking about writing and going through old files, one of the top discs on my Best Albums of 2019 list — Bulat Blues by Daniel Kahn — was spinning. Kahn is an expat American in Germany, working primarily with The Painted Bird, a “Klezmer Yiddish Punk Cabaret” ensemble. Bulat Blues is an album of chansons by Soviet-era composer Bulat Okudzhava, translated into English by Kahn, who performs them accompanied by Russian guitarist Vanya Zhuk. I’d never heard of any of them a year ago. Now they’re indispensable listening. That’s good stuff, that is.

One song in particular from that great album wormed its way into my consciousness as I sat at the computer: “Historical Novel.” You can read the full lyrics and hear the song here. They’re brilliant, and they perfectly capture the “writers gotta write” thing that drives me to churn out gazillions of words here and elsewhere, just because I might bust something if I don’t. The chorus sums up that drive thusly:

So, we write it
How we hear it
How we hear is
How we breathe it
How we breathe it
So we write it
Never trying to appease
That’s the way that nature made us
Don’t ask why
It’s no one’s business
Who’s to argue or to judge?

I spun the song a few times consecutively, letting it marinate and resonate with me, and that got me to thinking about other similar songs about writers and writing that move me, and might make a nice playlist for me and other creative scribblers to consider. It seemed like such an obvious topic that I expected it to be a simple exercise. Like, say, my Tree Songs post. Have idea, search the 15,000ish songs on my computer, bang out fun post. Done!

As it turns out, though, I was actually surprised by how few songs I had in my collection about the act of writing books, stories, articles, poems, prose, journalism or other print work (and the writers who write them) — as opposed to how many songs I own about writing songs, and songwriters. There are loads of those, but when I discounted that latter category as not quite what I had in mind, I found the pickings to be quite on the slim side. Hmmm.

Still, once a challenge sets itself before me, it gnaws at me until I complete it, so tonight I roll out a baker’s dozen great songs about writing and writers for your delectation (beginning with “Historical Novel”), and I welcome your suggestions for others to add to this playlist. Some of the songs are about the act of writing, some are about specific writers, some about particular works. Some of them are clearly, pointedly on-topic, while some just glance at the core concept, but in ways that work for and resonate with me.

I write best with a soundtrack, and it would be good to have more inspirational fare at my disposal as I bang away at my keyboard in the year(s) ahead . . . so hit me with your suggestions! I needs ’em! (And I will do a “part two” of this post, once another dozen or so pop up on my radar screen).

#1. “Historical Novel” by Daniel Kahn (feat. Vanya Zhuk)

#2. “Screenwriters’ Blues” by Soul Coughing

#3. “Let’s Write A Book” by Field Music

#4. “Anne Frank Story” by Human Sexual Response

#5. “The Painter Paints (And The Writer Writes)” by Shriekback

#6. “Poetry Man” by Phoebe Snow

#7. “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles

#8. “Rewrite” by Paul Simon

#9. “Autobiography” by Sloan

#10. “Writer In The Sun” by Donovan

#11. “The Engine Driver” by The Decemberists

#12. “We Call Upon the Author” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

#13. “The Writer” by Ian Dury

4 thoughts on “Writing Songs

  1. Pingback: What’s Up in the Neighborhood, February 29 2020 – Chuck The Writer

  2. Mister Level gave me a mix tape long ago that had a song on it about ‘wuthering heights’ but I can’t remember who did it. It was catchy. I’m on the boat so I don’t really have good access to the net (it took 3 minutes just to load up your page, thank you for not having any videos on it) if it comes to me I’ll let you know. Some of the writing you traded with me 20+ years ago was good indeed.


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